DENVER — Kevin Durant was asked at his team’s shootaround Thursday morning what the Thunder did so well in its last trip to Denver that resulted in an impressive 12-point road win.
Get back on defense and move the ball, Durant responded.
“But also,” he quickly added, “the best point guard in the league was playing that game, too.”
In case you’ve been under a rock the last two weeks, Durant was talking about Russell Westbrook, the fiery point guard who results are proving more and more makes this team go.
Without him, this one was all but over by halftime.
Denver thoroughly dominated the Thunder in the final three quarters Thursday night and dealt Oklahoma City its second straight disheartening loss, a 101-88 pummeling inside the Pepsi Center.
It was so bad that none of OKC’s starters played a single second of the fourth quarter, something that typically happens because the Thunder is on the right side of a blowout.
But on this night, the Thunder was done in — and early — by more deficient defense and another one-man show starring Mr. Durant.
Durant scored a game-high 30 points, the sixth time in the past eight games and the 19th time this season he’s notched at least 30, but he didn’t have nearly enough in the tank to keep up with the nuclear Nuggets.
Durant missed six of his final seven shots, and when he again got next to nothing offensively from his teammates, the Nuggets pounced, opening a 25-point lead before cruising to victory.
“We didn’t get a lot of good looks offensively,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We didn’t move the ball well enough. We took a lot of tough shots. Our timing wasn’t where it needs to be. And we missed a lot of 3s. That’s a couple of games in a row now.”
Reggie Jackson scored 13 points, and Derek Fisher, who scored all 12 of his points in the too-little-too-late fourth quarter, was the only other Thunder player to score in double figures.
Randy Foye scored a team-high 24 points to lead the Nuggets. He made seven of 11 shots, including a scorching 6-for-9 clip from 3-point range.
His efforts helped Denver made 14 of 31 3-pointers, the third straight game that the Nuggets buried at least 10 3s.
Oklahoma City, which shot 35.3 percent, was just 6-for-24 from 3-point range. Durant was 1-for-7.
“That did it,” said Durant. “You could put it on them getting hot. You could put it on us not making the right rotations. But they were 14-for-31, and any team that goes 14-for-31 from the trey is hard to beat.”
Judging by his start, you never would have guessed Durant would have such a horrific finish.
Durant came out ultra aggressive, whether determined to do a better job setting the tone after his team’s disappointing showing at Utah two nights earlier, or simply because he was being defended by second-year Nuggets forward Quincy Miller, who started in place of Wilson Chandler (groin). Either way, Durant hoisted eight shots in the first seven minutes and sat on 22 points after only 12 minutes.
The problem, for the second straight game, was meager contributions from his teammates. While Durant had 22, the rest of the Thunder’s active roster had combined for just 13 points, leaving the Thunder trailing 42-35 midway through the second period.
The Thunder, however, remained close by riding Durant and his ability to get to the free-throw line 12 times in the first half. A pair of free throws by Durant pulled the Thunder within 50-47 with 2:22 left to play in the second quarter, but a 10-4 run by Denver allowed the Nuggets to open a 60-51 lead at halftime.
That was one more point than the Thunder allowed at halftime against the Jazz. But the Nuggets’ point total at that juncture belied how much better Oklahoma City’s defense was. It was hard to be much worse and it still was far from great, as the Thunder’s perimeter defenders again were beat constantly off the dribble. But seen Thursday were second and third efforts that were absent against the Jazz, particularly in the paint, where the Nuggets traditionally excel.
But it wouldn’t last.
The defense deteriorated — Denver made 11 of 20 shots in the third period — and Durant cooled off.
It left the Thunder looking lost at both ends.
Denver started the third quarter with a 10-2 run, scoring on four of its first eight possessions. Two of those buckets were 3-pointers, pumped in by Foye and Ty Lawson (16 points, 14 assists). Both foreshadowed the kind of quarter it would be for the Nuggets, who splashed in six 3-pointers in the period.
Their hot shooting helped them construct a 23-point lead entering the final period.
At that point, the Thunder’s bench had been outscored 32-5.
Durant had produced 30 of the team’s 66 points.
Jeremy Lamb, the Thunder’s biggest remaining offensive spark off the bench and a player who has been a pleasant surprise with terrific all-around play for much of this season, had scored just one point on 0-for-4 shooting at that juncture.
Only 12 minutes of garbage time made the final numbers look halfway decent.
“We’re not playing well,” said Nick Collison. “Obviously, it hurts without Russell. But we’ve played well without him at times. So we’re capable.”
The sour two-game road swing through the Rockies says otherwise.
But there’s still belief.
“Everything that happened tonight is correctable, which is good,” Brooks said. “It’s not because we have issues. Everything that we did wrong tonight, we can go back and get better from it and make sure that we can correct it going into our next game.”